Senate blocks reauthorization of bill which would provide more funding to rural areas but take away from larger municipalities
WASHINGTON The House of Representatives agreed to send more AIDS care money to rural areas and the South. But Democrats from New York and California blocked the measure in the Senate, leaving the Ryan White CARE Act’s reauthorization uncertain.
U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel, a New York Democrat, called the House bill “shameful and disgraceful” before lawmakers voted 325-98 on Sept. 28 to amend the $2.1 billion AIDS funding measure.
“The HIV/AIDS epidemic is moving,” countered Congressman Joe Barton, a Republican from Texas. “This is a very fair compromise. It begins to treat all states on an equal footing.”
Supporters said the election-year updates were needed because of how AIDS has changed since the 1990 passage of the Ryan White law, the largest federal program specifically for people with HIV/AIDS.
Once a big city epidemic infecting mostly gay white men, the disease is now prevalent in the South and among minorities.
By some measures federal funding has not kept up, and states like California, New York and New Jersey get more money per patient than Alabama, Kentucky or North Carolina.
The Ryan White amendments, the first since 2000, make a number of changes aiming to spread money more equally around the country.
While current law only counts patients with full-blown AIDS, the revision also would count patients with the HIV virus who have not developed AIDS. That change would favor parts of the country where the disease is a newer phenomenon, which tend to be Southern and rural areas.
As a result, New York state stands to lose $100 million over the five years of the bill. New Jersey would lose $70 million.
Alabama, by contrast, would get an increase from $11 million a year to about $18 million a year.
Sen. Hilary Clinton, a New York Democrat, argued the way to help patients in those Southern states and rural areas is not to take funding away from states like New York.
“You want to take money away from my 100,000 people living with HIV/AIDS and give it to worthy people in other parts of the county because this administration and this Congress won’t put more money into funding treatment programs for HIV and AIDS,” Clinton said.
She urged the two sides to forge a compromise, arguing the overall dollar value of the bill could be increased to prevent big states from losing money.
The chief backer of the bill, Sen. Mike Enzi, criticized the small number of senators standing in the way.
“New York and New Jersey are stealing the future of those with HIV,” said Enzi, A Republican from Wyoming.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, October 6, 2006.